On May 3rd, Gov. Wes Moore signed House Bill 214 into law, establishing the Commission on Public Health, which will begin operations on June 1st. The purpose of the commission is to make recommendations to improve public health services within Maryland.
Del. Josephine Peña-Melnyk co-sponsored HB 214. She told State of Reform that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted major gaps in the state’s response to public health emergencies, as resources were not distributed equally among zip codes and at-risk populations.
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“It’s time to use what we learned to create a public health pathway for our state,” Peña-Melnyk said. “This was the inspiration behind HB 214. This bill establishes a Commission on Public Health to make recommendations to improve the delivery of ‘foundational public health services’ in Maryland.”
The commission is required to administer an assessment of the foundational public health capabilities of state and local health departments. When assessing, the commission needs to explain the impact of the foundational public health capabilities on Maryland’s ability to address foundational public health areas, including the ability to respond to COVID-19, narcotic overdoses, and maternal and infant mortality, in addition to other public health challenges.
During the assessment portion, the commission may request de-identified and publicly available data from the state’s department of health and local health departments, and request interviews with state and local health officials.
The commission is also required to provide public outreach, and to hold at least three meetings in different parts of Maryland that allow individuals to submit public comments.
“The Public Health Commission is tasked with establishing workgroups on funding, governance and organizational capabilities, workforce, data information and technology, and communication and public engagement,” Peña-Melnyk said.
Each workgroup will consist of two members of the commission, and members of the public who hold relevant experience, including primary and specialty care practitioners, payors, consumer advocates, hospital executives, safety net healthcare providers, public health practitioners, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations.
The commission will have a maximum of 16 members, including a member of the Senate appointed by the Senate president, a member of the House of Delegates appointed by the speaker of the House, the deputy secretary for public health or their designee, the deputy secretary for behavioral health or their designee, and the director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities or their designee.
Moore will appoint three members, with one from a rural jurisdiction, one from a suburban jurisdiction, and one from an urban jurisdiction. The commission will also include two representatives of state academic institutions who have expertise in public health systems, and one faculty member from a public health program at a historically black college or university. Additionally, three to five individuals of the public will be appointed to the commission, and must have a demonstrated interest in public health, and experience in either health equity, information technology, workforce, or population health.
“The first step of implementation is determining the membership of the commission,” Peña-Melnyk said. “With members of the commission representing the diverse populations of the state, the recommendations aim to create a clear, cohesive path forward for all Marylanders.”
Based on the commission’s assessment, they will create recommendations for reorganizing state and local public health departments; information technology, information exchange, and data analytics; and workforce, which includes human resources. The commission’s draft of recommendations will then be made available for 30 days for a public comment period.
The commission is required to submit a temporary report to the governor and several committees of the General Assembly by Dec. 1st, and it will submit a final report of its findings and recommendations by Dec. 1st, 2024.